Ivory Coast Vote Unrest Disrupts Cocoa Harvest, Macquarie Says

Violence in Ivory Coast disrupted the country’s main cocoa harvest and delayed arrivals at ports as farmers and truck drivers stayed away from work, Macquarie Group Ltd. said.

“We have seen a serious escalation of violence,” Kona Haque, a London-based analyst at Macquarie, said in a phone interview today. “This is not the right environment for trading to take place. It is nowhere near peaceful enough for people to go into the bush to resume harvesting, for trucks to carry cocoa to the ports.”

The West African country has been in political limbo since the Nov. 28 presidential election runoff in which both the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, and challenger Alassane Ouattara asserted victory. As many as 32 supporters of Ouattara, whose claim on the presidency has been backed by the United Nations, were reported killed yesterday in Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, the capital, when security forces loyal to Gbagbo opened fire on marchers. Sporadic gunfire was heard in parts of Abidjan today, according to Ouattara supporters.

The latest weekly cocoa arrivals at Ivorian ports such as Abidjan and San Pedro were down, Haque said, which is “a symptom of the fact that there has been a bit of a hiatus on the back of the political turmoil.”

Declared cocoa arrivals at ports were 369,216 metric tons by Dec. 5 for the season that started Oct. 1, according to data from regulator BCC obtained by Reuters on Dec. 14. The figures were below the 430,555 tons arriving during about the same period, to Dec. 7, last season.

Cocoa Prices

Ivory Coast’s cocoa crop for the season will be 1.3 million tons, Macquarie said Dec. 6. That would be up from the year- earlier harvest of 1.2 million tons, Macquarie estimated in October.

“I’ve not had any indication so far that the crop is coming in below,” Haque said. “The bottom line is the cocoa is there, and the real question is how much of this crop can get to the ports. Some of it may be smuggled into neighboring countries, such as Ghana or Togo.”

Cocoa prices in London have climbed 5.8 percent since the disputed election spurred speculation that violence would curb the country’s bean exports. Cocoa for March delivery lost 28 pounds, or 1.4 percent, to 1,978 pounds ($3,068) a ton on NYSE Liffe by 3:11 p.m. in London, the first drop this week. Cocoa for March delivery fell $49, or 1.6 percent, to $2,954 a ton on ICE Futures U.S. in New York.

“The fact the price is only rising in a drip-drip fashion is testament to the fact that the market is more comfortable with supplies this year,” Haque said.

‘New Interest’

Hedge funds that invest in commodities also may be paring their positions in cocoa, driving the price down, she said.

“Cocoa just has a short-term political-risk premium right now, but it’s not in a structural deficit like corn or coffee,” she said. “If this conflict carries on into 2011, we could see some new interest develop, but right now I don’t think anyone is going to take new positions.”

Ghana, the world’s second-biggest producer of the chocolate ingredient, will benefit from the turmoil in its neighbor as it is set to harvest a “massive crop” of about 800,000 tons, Haque forecast.

“We are seeing very good crops out of most other producer countries,” she said. “They will benefit from any price rally and will certainly take advantage of this by selling into any rally.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Morris in London at smorris39@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net

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